Saturday, February 21, 2009

All About Us ; A Recap

I've been meaning to write a general post that I can link to my profile that tells our story. Some of it, anyway.

We've both found with weight issues all our lives. Ten years ago, I was at my highest weight, around 340, and I lost nearly 120 lbs. then, mostly by spending all my time exercising myself into a stupor so that I could avoid thinking about my disintegrating first marriage. I slowly gained a lot of it back, although fortunately not all of it, and I retained a lot of the good exercise habits that I'd acquired then.

When Michael and I got married in April of 2006, he weighed about 620 lbs., and I weighed 290 lbs.

We immediately started the "perfect" low fat, food pyramid-based diet. We ate about 1500-1800 calories a day, and I wrote down every single thing in a food diary. We ate about 20% fat, tons of fruits and vegetables, whole grains... obsessively and exactly what we were supposed to eat. What we had always been told to eat. And we did this until about the end of 2007.

During this time, Michael got down to about 530, and his weight then bounced up and down and up and down, totally stalling out. I lost 10 lbs, gained 10 lbs, lost 10 lbs... and so on. And all the fat went back and forth into my stomach, which is usually not where I gain weight (let's not discuss my thighs, ok?). Plus I was absolutely exhausted all the time, and we were getting absolutely nowhere.

By the end of 2007, Michael weighed 533 lbs., and I weighed 302. It had been nearly a decade since my weight had been that high, and yet I was eating "better" than I ever had before. And I felt awful.

A friend recommended Gary Taubes' book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, and I started thinking about low carb diets. Then I started reading everything that I could get my hands on about low carb diets, most specifically the Protein Power books by the Drs. Eades. And we started eating low carb. This was an extremely hard sell around here... I'd read enough that I understood the science behind the idea, but it's hard to go from a "fat is bad" lifetime to a "fat is ok" way of thinking. It's taken more than a year for Michael to really buy into it, I think, even though his weight loss has been extraordinary.

But it's been a great thing. First of all, I stopped feeling terrible all the time. I had energy again. I lost about 20 lbs. quickly. And then, I have to say that until recently, the actual weight has been a struggle for me, even though I've eaten consistently low carb. More about that in below. But now I seem to actually be losing weight again.

Michael is the huge success story. By the end of 2008, he'd lost over 100 lbs. At this writing (end of February 2009), he's lost about another 20 more, for a total loss (since 2006) of over 200 lbs. His blood sugar improves all the time (he's a Type 2 diabetic), and his cholesterol and particularly triglyceride readings have improved remarkably.

What do you eat?

A lot of protein. Eggs for breakfast, usually, whey protein shakes, meat, poultry, and a lot of fish (because we love it).

Vegetables. Salad stuff, lower-carb vegetables mostly. But really, we don't worry about the carbs in vegetables a lot. And because Michael is a good English boy and can't live without his peas, we have peas (a legume really) in very limited quantity. We sometimes have very limited amounts of other legumes, like lentils and chickpeas.

Fruit: Not so much. We have fresh berries for dessert a couple of nights a week (and I'm still looking for a good alternative that uses frozen berries, because the fresh ones are so expensive. But we are annoyingly picky.) Michael eats apples, although he's cut those down a lot. We eat watermelon in the summer, and cherries because we love them, but that's about it. We never eat tropical fruit, because it's just so high in sugar.

What don't you eat?

Sugar. Bread. Rice. Potatoes (tiny bits very rarely). Sweet potatoes. Most processed foods; I try to cook nearly everything from scratch, except for things like Jell-O and protein bars, which I don't eat but Michael likes. Tropical fruits. Most sweet things. We go light on milk, which is mostly lactose, so adds up the carbs fast.

How many carbs do you eat in a day?

I don't know. I mostly don't count, because I've found that doing this makes me a little obsessive and weird. But I check every so often, and I try to shoot for 30-40, and I'm happier if I'm below that. Michael eats a little more, but even on a really "bad" day, he's probably around 80.

So why haven't you lost more weight?

Because, really, until recently I haven't paid a lot of attention to it. 2008 was all about my mother's terminal illness. And so while I ate low-carb faithfully and consistently, I didn't really pay that much attention to I ate. And it is a myth that you can eat any volume of food that you want on a low-carb diet. But I didn't gain any weight, either, and for me, that's a huge victory. It's the only major life crisis that I've ever been through that didnt result in another 25 lbs. Sometimes not gaining is losing, if that makes any sense.

But the strange thing is, I look like I've lost far more weight than I have. One of the benefits of a low carb diet is that your body tends to reshape. You lose weight around your stomach, one of the signs of insulin resistance, and you just look better. So, sure, I'd be happier if I'd lost more. But I will. So that's ok.

Do you think that everyone should eat this way?

I don't think that everyone should do anything. Except maybe breathe. I think that we are all different; we have different tastes and preferences, different bodies, different genetic predispositions, different behavioral issues. I think that losing weight and maintaining weight loss and fitness are very individual things, and there is absolutely no one formula that works for everyone. The most important thing is to find a formula that fits well for you and that you can maintain for the rest of your life. This one is pretty easy for me, because I like protein foods, and I cook all the time, and I have a strong, strong motivation to maintain it. I also think that it's hard to lose a lot of weight on a low fat diet (although certainly, people do it) because hunger is much more of a issue.

But I suppose that I do think that everyone would be better off with a lower carb diet than is typical in America today. The processed white stuff does nothing good for your body, and a lot of things that purport to be whole grains are not really much better than the processed equivalent. I think we'd all do better cooking more for ourselves, eating out less, eating less prepared food, and eating more locally-grown fresh stuff. (This is hard to do in upstate NY in the winter.)

What is the hardest thing about eating low carb?

For me, two things. One is that it's annoyingly hard to eat out at fast food places. Yes, you can have burgers without buns, but it's messy and fussy. It's hard to find something to just grab at the grocery store, although this is getting easier. There's also almost nothing at a convenience store that you can eat, unless you want nuts and cheese... and that gets a little high-calorie pretty fast. (It's actually pretty easy to eat out at most sit-down restaurants, though... just tell them to skip the potatoes and give you double the vegetables.)

The other is living low carb in a high carb world. People aren't well informed about a healthy low-carb diet (example: one of my students said, "My roommate went on Atkins. She ate nothing but peanut butter." Huh?), and constantly tell you that you're insane. This is tiresome. Package labeling often doesn't tell you what you want to know. Everything comes with bread.

These things actually get easier with time and practice.

What's the best thing about eating low carb?

Not being hungry all the time. More energy. Less stomach. Not fussing at Michael about what he's eating or not eating. Not feeling guilty about eating things that I love, like cheese. Being able to cook wonderful food. Eating in a way that makes moderation and portion control a lot easier for me.

What else would you like to know?

1 comment:

Jim Purdy said...

You said:
"I think that losing weight and maintaining weight loss and fitness are very individual things, and there is absolutely no one formula that works for everyone. The most important thing is to find a formula that fits well for you and that you can maintain for the rest of your life."

I agree. I tried low-carb, and I lost weight quickly.

And I also got constipated, and I got very sick.

For me, it's going to be a high-fiber almost-vegetarian diet for a while. So far, so good.

Best wishes to you.